RT Interviews Death Sentence Director James Wan

We chat with the director about his upcoming movie.

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Modest yet gregarious, James Wan appears more like a fan of the movies than someone who directs them. And as the instigator of the modern torture porn genre, he fits the bill even less.  Shot for $1.2 million and grossing over $100 million globally in 2004, Wan's Saw paved the way for its increasingly grisly sequels and a host of splatter flicks like Turistas, Captivity, and the Hostel franchise.

Wan's subsequent movies, like his straight-forward horror Dead Silence, have calmed significantly.  His latest, Death Sentence, opens this Friday and stars Kevin Bacon as a father protecting his family from brutes. Rotten Tomatoes caught up with Wan in San Diego, broaching the topics of action films during the American New Wave, directing Bacon, and growing up in suburbia.

Rotten Tomatoes: Death Sentence's action scenes are shot very matter-of-factly, with low-key music.

James Wan: One of my influences was the action films of the 1970s. Today's action movies, when the action scene kicks in, they're so bombastic.  I didn't really want that. I wanted to create [something] realistic and gritty.  I want the violence to be really shocking, really hellish in that it's not supposed to be fun.

RT: How much CG did you use?

JW: Very little. Mostly for cleanup. Maybe we'd paint up a wire for safety.

Look at this summer.  If people want to watch a CG movie, there's plenty out there.  If people want an action movie that is realistic, that harks back to the old-school -- you know, stunt work, choreography -- then that's what I was going for. I wanted to make an action movie that was [also] scary.

RT: It reminded me of Straw Dogs.

JW: I love Sam Peckinpah. So Straw Dogs is about an oppressed man, who's unconfrontational on the surface level but gets pushed too far. Death Sentence has shades of that. It kind of goes the extra step.  We get stories like [that] all the time: mild-mannered man goes on some crazy rampage. And you go, "How did they do this?"

I guess, deep down, there's a dark side to us. I guess that's why movie fans really love the revenge drama.  We like to go into dark movie theaters and fantasize.  Do what Kevin Bacon does! It's a very cathartic experience. And you come out of the theater, and think, "I got that out of my system.  I don't need to do that for real." [laughs]

But [Death Sentence] really is a drama before the action starts. This movie is a tearjerker. I think people are going to be surprised.  People are going to be crying.  Hopefully because of the story, and the strong performances. [laughs]

Kevin Bacon in Death Sentence.

RT: Did you consult the book by Brian Garfield?

JW: No, I didn't want to be influenced by the book.  The book is very different from the script, and it was the script that I fell in love with.  [But I love] the title!  It's a very commercial title. Has a B-movie slant to it.

RT: In your movies, a little in Saw but especially in Death Sentence, there are elements of suburbia as a place of safety and complacency.

JW: I come from a very straight and adjusted suburban background.  Very middle class while growing up in the suburbs of Australia. With Asian parents [laughs]. So it was, "You must study hard, you must work hard so you can go to a good school and get a good job," and all that stuff.  So, yeah, I do find that theme creeping into my films a bit.

RT: Kevin Bacon is also a director.  Did he specifically contribute that experience while shooting?

JW: At first I was a bit apprehensive knowing that he's directed a few things. But he was a true professional.  He treated me like I was Clint Eastwood, like Ron Howard, or some of the bigger directors he's worked with. I can't believe he would listen to this punk kid telling him what to do. But he did, and I respect him for that.

RT: You worked with animation while studying film. How far did you get?

JW: I don't do it much anymore.  I'm a big fan of cel animation, I'm a big fan of computer animation, and, most of all, I'm a big fan of stop-motion animation.

RT: Would you consider doing an animated movie?

JW: Yeah, definitely.  I'm a big fan of anime and manga and all that. I would love to.  Stop-motion animation mixed with 2D.